In 1903 Honus Wagner, unquestionably the most outstanding baseball player of his era, predicted that Pittsburgh pitcher Bucky Veil would be “a great star.” Wagner may well have been right, had intervening circumstances not derailed the rookie’s promising major-league career
Nevertheless, in his short stay (1903 and 1904) with the Pirates before it was curtailed by injury and illness, Veil earned two distinctions: He was the first pitcher to hurl in relief in a modern World Series, as well as the first player to take part in both a major-league and a minor-league championship series.
Frederick W. “Bucky” Veil was born on August 2, 1881, in Tyrone, in western Pennsylvania, the oldest of six children born to Henry and Mary (Irvin) Veil. At an early age, his family moved to Williamsport in north central Pennsylvania, where his father established a buggy and harness business. At Williamsport High School, Veil excelled in both football and baseball. He earned his nickname playing fullback on the football team. Veil was adept at running plays through the line, which were referred to as line bucks; hence the appellation Buck (or Bucky).
In the summer of 1899 Veil pitched and played outfield for the Demorests, a team sponsored by the Demorest Manufacturing Co. of Williamsport. The Demorests reportedly played an excellent brand of baseball, competing with other company-sponsored teams as well as those from area colleges, such as the Pennsylvania State College and the Lock Haven Normal School. It was as a member of the Demorest team that he likely first crossed paths with Jimmy Sebring, a native of nearby Liberty, who had also begun to establish a reputation as an exceptional baseball player after his family moved to Williamsport in the late 1890s. Veil and Sebring developed a friendship that would last for as long as they both lived.
In 1900 Veil got his first shot at professional baseball, inking a contract with the Cortland team of the New York State League. While he appeared to pitch well in the early going, he was nevertheless released by midsummer. He finished out the season with a semipro team in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where he was a teammate of future Hall of Fame pitcher Rube Waddell, who had been suspended by the Pittsburgh Pirates for engaging in some form of misconduct.
In January 1901 Veil enrolled at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, the alma mater of Christy Mathewson, on a baseball scholarship. A letter to Veil from baseball manager C.M. Konkle, dated January 12, 1901, noted that the manager also was considering an offer to “your friend Sebring.” Apparently, in an earlier communication Veil had recommended Sebring to Konkle. Ultimately, Sebring was granted a baseball scholarship by Bucknell and attended the university with Veil, both playing on the 1901 baseball team.
Veil pitched for Bucknell’s baseball team in 1901 and 1902, compiling an impressive 1.75 ERA in his second season.i In the summer of 1901 he pitched for the semipro Altoona Monarchs and despite being sidelined for most of the season with an arm injury, he pitched well, winning four of the five games he started.
The summer of 1902 found Veil again back in Altoona, pitching for the Altoona Mountaineers, an independent semipro team that competed at a somewhat higher level than the Monarchs. The Altoona team was a good oneii and Veil was the ace of the staff, compiling a record of 26 wins and 5 losses against strong competition from Wilmington, Homestead, Wheeling, Johnstown, Philadelphia, the Cuban X-Giants and others. In games against major-league teams, Veil beat the American League’s Cleveland Broncos and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. His ERA for the season was 1.85.iii
In October 1902 Barney Dreyfuss, the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had been scouting Veil for much of the previous summer, signed him to a contract providing him with an opportunity to try out in 1903. According to the Pittsburgh Press, Veil’s signing was influenced, at least in part, by the recommendation of his friend Sebring, who had been acquired by the Pirates from Worcester several months earlier.
Veil had a good spring with the Pirates at Hot Springs, Arkansas, and made the team roster for 1903. In an era when pitchers were expected to (and invariably did) pitch complete games, Veil, a rookie pitcher on a veteran staff, was used sparingly during the season. When called upon to pitch, however, he generally did well, and was specifically cited on numerous occasions by the baseball press for his excellent performance on the mound.iv He was also highly regarded by his Pittsburgh teammates. Teammate Honus Wagner predicted a “brilliant future for the promising youngster” and opined that the rookie would be “a great star.”v
In late June, when it appeared that Veil was hitting his stride, he suffered a malarial attack that sidelined him for the better part of a month. He returned in August and pitched well down the stretch, helping his team to its third straight National League pennant.vi His work was impressive enough that he was included on the 15-player World Series roster against the Boston Americans.
The first World Series in modern baseball was played in October 1903. Pittsburgh was favored to win, but was hampered by injuries to several key players, including Honus Wagner and pitching ace Sam Leever, and the loss of southpaw pitcher Ed Doheny, who suffered a mental breakdown late in the season. Nevertheless, the Pirates won three of the first four games in the best-of-nine Series before Boston came back with a vengeance to win four straight and take the Series five games to three.
Veil’s sole appearance in the Series came in the second game, when he relieved Leever after the ailing Pittsburgh ace had been touched up for two first-inning runs. Veil pitched exceptionally well, holding the powerful Boston team to one run in seven innings, that coming on a wrong-field home run by Patsy Dougherty, his second of the game. Veil struck out one batter and walked four. The Pittsburgh Press reported his work as “remarkable” and further observed that he pitched “wonderful ball.” The Pirates, however, lost the game, 3-0.
Veil’s appearance in the second game of the Series garnered him the distinction of being the first pitcher ever to appear in a relief role in a World Series game. He was also the first rookie at any position to do so.
As the Series progressed, it was speculated in both the Boston and Pittsburgh press that Veil would pitch the critical eighth game against Cy Young. Pirates’ player-manager Fred Clarke, however, decided to go with the veteran Deacon Philippe, despite Philippe’s having already pitched four complete games in the Series. The Pirates lost the game and the Series.
In December 1903 Veil married Mae Genevieve Robaugh of Altoona, Pennsylvania. They had seven children: Dorothy Mae (born 1904), Frederick William (1907), twins Henry Preston and Charles Henry (1910), Mary Elizabeth (1918), Jean Virginia (1923), and Shirley Lois (1926).
The 1904 baseball season started well for Veil. He had another strong spring training at Hot Springs and appeared to have locked up a position in the Pirates regular pitching rotation. However, in mid-April, as the Pirates broke camp, Veil was stricken by another malarial attack. Weakened by the illness, Veil lost his effectiveness and was released by the Pirates on April 25 after having made just one start. Veil then rejoined Altoona where he finished out the season, compiling a record of 22-10 (ERA 1.56) with the Mountaineers.
In 1905 Veil signed with the Columbus Senators of the Class Avii American Association and was a mainstay on the club’s pitching staff for two seasons, helping the Senators to two consecutive league championships. In 1905 he was 21-12 (1.84 ERA) for a team baseball historian Bill Weiss called one of the best minor-league teams of all time. In 1906 Veil won his first nine outings, four by shutout, but dislocated his right shoulder on June 20 in a 2-0 win over the Minneapolis Millers. After he returned to action he was not nearly as effective as he had been at the start of the season and finished with a record of 17 wins and 11 losses and an ERA of 1.84.
After the 1906 regular season the Senators and the Buffalo Bisons, the champion of the Eastern League, played a series to determine the championship of the minor leagues. Veil pitched the third game of the series, a 1-0 loss, the sole run crossing the plate on an errant effort by Veil to pick off a runner at second base.
The series, which ultimately became known as the Little World Series, was scheduled to go seven games. It was prematurely ended when the Bisons, leading the series three games to two, reneged on a deal to finish out the series at Columbus, and packed up and returned to Buffalo. The untimely termination of the series did not go down well with the sports media. Sporting Life offered this assessment of the situation: “And so ended ingloriously and unsatisfactorily the first inter-league series for the class ‘A’ championship.”
Veil’s participation in the Little World Series enabled him to obtain one other distinction in the annuals of baseball history. He was the first player of his time – perhaps the only one – to take part in both a major-league and a minor-league championship series.
The 1907 baseball season was the beginning of the end of Veil’s professional baseball career. Plagued by illness and injury, he was decidedly ineffective as a pitcher for the two-time American Association champion Columbus Senators. On May 25 Veil’s contract was sold to Williamsport of the Tri-State League. He pitched in only one game for the Millionaires and was released in July. He finished his professional baseball career in 1908 after unimpressive stints with Binghamton and Wilkes-Barre of the New York State League.
In 1910 Veil took a job as a clerk with the Pennsylvania Rail Road and moved to the town of Cresson, about 35 miles from his birthplace, Tyrone. He remained active in baseball as player-manager for the Cresson PRR team and coach of the St. Francis College baseball team. In 1915 Veil was elected justice of the peace, or judicial magistrate, of the Cresson precinct, and was repeatedly re-elected until his untimely death in 1931. Initially, he held the position on a part-time basis, but in 1921 he resigned his position with the railroad to devote full time to his judicial office. According to an undated article from a Williamsport newspaper, “Squire” Veil “made quite a reputation, tempering his administration of justice with mercy and using most excellent judgment in all the cases coming before him.” Reportedly, the Squire did more than just dispense justice from the bench, as he was known on occasion to strap on a pistol and accompany the local law enforcement authorities on raids and arrests.
On April 16, 1931, Veil suffered a heart attack while walking to work at his office in the First National Bank building in Cresson. He was taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital in Altoona, where he died at 9:45 p.m. He was 49 years old. Veil was buried in the Wildwood Cemetery in Williamsport. Lycoming County Commissioner Fred Applegate, a former professional ballplayer who played with and against Veil, paid a warm tribute to him: “He was one of the most popular players of his time, and perhaps the most sportsmanlike, as he never ‘baited’ or irritated an umpire.”
Shortly after Veil’s death, Mae was appointed to complete his unexpired term as Cresson justice of the peace. In November 1931 she was elected to a four-year term in her own right and was returned to office seven times. Mae retired after 30 years of service. She died on March 17, 1970, at the age of 87 and is buried alongside her husband in Williamsport.
This biographical sketch is based on the author’s book Bucky: A Story of Baseball in the Dead Ball Era, which is expected to be released in the fall of 2012 and will be available at Amazon.com.
i The game reports do not provide sufficient information to compute an ERA for the 1901 Bucknell season.
ii According to the Philadelphia Inquirer (July 6, 1902), the Altoona baseball club was the “slickest of the slick in semi-professional ranks in the state.”
iii Veil’s ERA was computed from the game reports in the Altoona Mirror. Where runs could not be identified as earned or unearned, they were, for the purpose of this analysis considered to be earned. Therefore, the ERA was most likely somewhat lower than 1.85.
iv See, e.g., Pittsburgh Press, March 29, May 14, May 17, June 1, June 7, August 3, and August 10, 1903, and Cincinnati Commercial, June 1, 1903.
v Pittsburgh Press, August 3, 1903.
vi Veil appeared in 12 games and finished with a record of 5 wins and 4 losses.
vii Class A was the top tier in the minor leagues at the time.